Namma Canteens on Karnataka plate

Amma in Chennai. Namma in Bangalore.

By Our Special Correspondent in Bangalore
  • Published 20.03.17

Bangalore, March 19: Amma in Chennai. Namma in Bangalore.

The poor in Bangalore could soon hope to get affordable vegetarian food as the state's Congress government is planning Namma Canteens, modelled on the Amma Canteens of neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka chief minister P.C. Siddaramaiah last week proposed the Namma Canteens - Namma means 'our' in Kannada - in the state capital, one in each of the city's 198 municipal wards.

The idea is borrowed from Amma Canteens launched in 2011 by then Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa.

Siddaramaiah's canteens will offer breakfast at Rs 5 and lunch and dinner at Rs 10 each. The chief minister, who also holds the finance portfolio, has earmarked Rs 100 crore for the project.

But the Namma Canteens would be a tad expensive compared to Amma Canteens, where idlis are still sold for Re 1 apiece, pongal (a rice-based dish) and sambar-rice at Rs 5 a plate.

The Karnataka government has jotted down a rough menu. While there won't be idlis as most wayside eateries already sell them for Rs 5 a plate (two pieces), the stress will be on local dishes. Lunch and dinner will comprise rice, sambar, a vegetable dish, pickle and buttermilk - all staples in Karnataka.

Since the state government wouldn't be able to handle the operations, it is looking for NGOs experienced in handling mid-day meal schemes to supply food from their base kitchens.

"By roping in a partner, we can maintain uniformity in quality and taste so that food available at all ward canteens would be exactly the same. We expect a footfall of about two lakh daily," said a senior government official.

Akshaya Patra, managed by a division of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), and Adamya Chetana - run by Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, wife of BJP leader and Union minister Ananth Kumar - could be approached as both organisations have considerable experience in preparing and supplying midday meals.

The government had first sounded Akshaya Patra four months ago but that was for another project about providing affordable meals at railway stations and government hospitals where the poor often struggle to get affordable food.

"The Namma Canteen scheme will override the earlier plans," the official said, adding the chief minister was keen on launching the scheme in Bangalore by June.

The subsidised food canteens will be later launched in other districts with the help of self-help groups - smaller units - as the numbers of customers there are expected to be much lower than in Bangalore.

Vinay Kumar, director (operations) of Akshaya Patra, said they had spare capacity to handle around a lakh meals for the Namma scheme.

"This is different from the earlier idea to provide affordable meals at railway stations and hospitals. We are ready for the Namma Canteens," said Kumar, whose organisation already supplies 1.5 lakh meals to students in 1,229 schools in and around Bangalore. Overall, it serves 1.6 million children in 13,529 schools in 11 states, including Karnataka.

Since the capacity can be raised in Bangalore, cooking more meals wouldn't be a problem if the government wants to expand the operation.

According to Kumar, a bigger challenge will be ward-level readiness as the meals will be eventually served in different localities.

"Crowd and queue management will be among the biggest challenges as only a limited quantity of food will be available in each locality after assessing the needs," Kumar said, adding even Amma Canteens follow the first-come-first-served principle.

If Akshaya Patra is chosen for the project, Kumar said it would follow its current practice of serving meals in stainless steel plates against disposable dishes as that would only add to the city's already-grave waste management problem.

The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city corporation, will provide space and related infrastructure in each of the 198 wards. The civic body has sufficient space in its ward offices.

An official at Adamya Chetana, Tejaswini Kumar's organisation, said he had no idea if the government would approach them. "We can handle quite a bit as we have expertise in this kind of mass production of quality food," said the official. The organisation serves 82,000 midday meals to 324 schools in and around Bangalore.